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Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is IELS important?

IELS will provide the U.S. the opportunity to better understand the skills and competencies of American children at the beginning of primary school and how they compare to the skill profiles of 5-year-olds in other countries. Results from IELS will provide policymakers, educators, and parents/guardians with important information about the experiences that influence children's early learning as they begin school. This information can be used to improve children's education and experiences in the first five years of life. These early years can set the stage for future success in and outside of school.

What is being assessed?

The IELS assesses the whole child. Five-year-old children use a tablet and play activities designed to assess their language and early reading skills along with their emerging number skills. The activities also measure their self-regulation and the development of empathy.

What are the components of IELS?

The focus of IELS is the child's early learning and skills. This information is collected via three components:

  • Play-based direct assessment: children complete game-like activities on a tablet designed to measure children's early literacy, early numeracy, self-regulation and empathy skills;
  • Parent questionnaire: parents provide an indirect assessment of children's early cognitive, behavioral, and social emotional skills, family demographic information, information on the home learning environment and the child's early childhood education and care history; and
  • Teacher questionnaire: teachers also provide an indirect assessment of children's early cognitive, behavioral, and social emotional skills for each study child in their class.

How was IELS developed?

  • In July 2015, the OECD convened the Early Learning Group (ELG) consisting of member nations, including the US, interested in working together to answer common questions and policy issues pertaining to young children's learning.
  • The ELG met quarterly in 2015 and 2016 to determine what areas of early learning to assess and to create a general framework for the IELS.
  • In September 2016, an international consortium was contracted to develop the study measures and fine tune the study design. To do this, the international consortium convened groups of experts from multiple nations to help develop the study instruments and protocols for IELS.
  • In November of 2016, the new instruments were tested in cognitive laboratories in both Australia and Poland. The findings were reviewed by the ELG and experts.
  • The resulting modifications and improvements were pilot tested in the United States in March of 2017. Again, results were reviewed by international experts and changes were made to the study instruments and protocols.
  • A multi-country field test was conducted in the fall of 2017 to evaluate IELS procedures, protocols, and instruments. The results of the field test were examined by the OECD, the international consortium, international experts, and the ELG. Modifications to the instruments and protocols were made as a result.
  • The Main Study protocols and instruments will be administered in several nations in the fall of 2018. Results will be available at the end of 2019.

How many schools and students participate in IELS?

Approximately 3,000 students, from about 200 public and private schools across the country, will participate in the Main Study during the fall of 2018. The field test in 2017 included approximately 30 public and private schools and a total of 475 children.

How are schools and students selected for participation?

The U.S. Department of Education sampled about 200 public and private schools to represent the nation. Schools were chosen at random to ensure racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, as well as representation from schools in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Up to 19 five-year-old students will be randomly selected to take part in the study from each participating school. In very small schools, all 5-year-old students may be asked to participate. Approximately 3,000 5-year-olds will take part in the Main Study across the U.S.

Why should schools, students, and parents participate in the study?

Participants help IELS to provide an accurate picture of what 5-year-olds in the U.S. know and can do. It is important that every selected school and student participates in the study because they represent many other schools and children like them across the country. Parents and guardians provide vital information about children's early educational experiences contributing to a more complete picture of children's learning and development. The child's teacher also completes a short questionnaire to provide a full picture of a child's skills and experiences.

When is IELS being conducted?

NCES will work with Westat, a research organization, to conduct the study in the U.S. beginning in October and ending in December 2018.

What was the field test for?Cartoon boy standing

The IELS field test (a small-scale, trial run of the study) was conducted in every participating country in the fall of 2017. To ensure that the assessment wording and the concepts assessed are not regionally, culturally, or socially biased, the study materials were field-tested with a diverse sample of 5-year-olds from a variety of schools, locations, and backgrounds. Field Test participants provided essential feedback, improving the study and guaranteeing that IELS provides an accurate picture of what U.S. 5-year-olds know and can do.

What is involved for students?

IELS is a play-based study conducted on tablets. Children will be asked to point to pictures, listen to stories, and complete game-like tasks. They do not need to prepare in advance. They do not need to know how to read. The assessment is conducted during school hours in a room designated by the school, such as the school library. Children work one-on-one with trained staff who have experience working with children. The study is untimed and is split across two days to minimize time away from regular classroom activity. Children are allowed to take breaks as necessary. In our experience, the study takes about 30 minutes each day and children enjoy participating.

What is involved for parents?

Cartoon parent handing ice cream cone to childOne parent or guardian of each student who participates in the study is asked to complete a brief survey. Parent participation in IELS is critically important for the study to be able to report on the relationship between children's early learning experiences and their skills as they enter school.

  • The questionnaire asks demographic questions and questions about the child's early childhood education experiences. It also asks the parent or guardian to report on their child's social skills and participation in child care.
  • The questionnaire is available online. Parents/guardians may also request a paper version, if preferred. Spanish versions of the questionnaire are also available.
  • Parents/guardians can decide when and where to complete the questionnaire, within the timeframe of the study. They may exit the questionnaire at any point and return to it later.
  • Parents/guardians may skip any questions that they do not want to answer.

What role do teachers have in IELS?

Teachers of students who participate in the study will be asked to complete an online survey about their professional background and about the development of the sampled students. Paper-and-pencil versions of the surveys are available upon request. The teacher survey does not have to be completed in a single session.

Do teachers need to help administer the assessments?

No. Trained IELS staff from Westat will administer the study on behalf of NCES and bring all required materials to the school. Exceptions will be made for students with IEP accommodations that may require the assistance of school personnel (e.g., if a student works one-on-one with an aide).

What happens if a child refuses to participate?

All participation is voluntary. Children can skip any question they do not want to answer. Any child who does not wish to work with IELS staff will not have to. Children can take breaks whenever they would like during the assessment.

Are children with disabilities and English-language learners included in IELS?

IELS aims to be as inclusive as possible. Students with disabilities and English-language learners are offered a limited set of accommodations to participate in IELS. If those accommodations do not provide adequate support to enable their participation, the children may be excused.

Will the names of participants and their responses be kept confidential?

All of the information provided may be used only for statistical purposes and may not be disclosed, or used, in identifiable form for any other purpose except as required by law (20 U.S.C. §9573 and 6 U.S.C. §151). All field staff and other staff working on the study have signed an affidavit of non-disclosure where they swear to abide by this law.

The information provided by individual children and parents or guardians will not be shared with teachers, schools, or the district. Individuals and schools will not be identified in any reported data. IELS is not designed to produce results for individual children. Results will be combined to describe the nation's 5-year-olds.

What will happen with the collected data?

Individual children's performance will not be shared with teachers, the school, or the district in any way. Results will not identify participating districts, schools, students, educators, or parents/guardians. Individual responses will be combined with those from other participants to produce summary statistics and reports.

Who can I contact with questions?

For additional information, please call the IELS information number, 1-855-299-1398, or send an email to

Participating Parents: To access the IELS website for parents of participating students, please visit You will need a user name and password to enter the site. If you do not have one call the IELS information number, 1-855-299-1398. Or send an email to

Participating Teachers: To complete the teacher questionnaire, please visit You will need a user name and password to enter the site. If you do not have one call the IELS information number, 1-855-299-1398. Or send an email to

Participating Schools: To register on the IELS website using the registration id for your school, please visit You will need a user name and password to enter the site. If you do not have one call the IELS information number, 1-855-299-1398. Or send an email to